Sharp NASA Map Reveals What Lies Beneath Antarctica's Icy Cloak (Video)

First Posted: Jun 06, 2013 09:01 AM EDT

NASA may be able to show us what would happen if all of the ice suddenly melted in Antarctica--or at least what the land mass would look like. The British Antarctic Survey has helped create a map of the southern reaches of our globe that reveals the underlying topography of Antarctica's ice sheet.

The map is actually the result of decades' worth of geophysical measurements, such as surface elevation measurements from NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and ice thickness data collected by Operation IceBridge. Although a topographical map of the area, called Bedmap, was created about 10 years ago, this latest rendition is far more accurate.

The new map, called Bedmap2, is actually a collection of three datasets--surface elevation, ice thickness and bedrock topography. Its accuracy is largely due to the fact that more Antarctic surveys have been conducted, which means that more data is available to researchers and they can incorporate it into the map. While both the old and new maps are laid out as grids covering the entire continent, there are some significant differences between the two.

The first difference is the fact that Bedmap2 has a much tighter grid spacing, which means that it includes many surface and sub-ice features that are too small to be seen in the previous map. While total ice volume and sea level contribution remained the same between the two maps, Antarctica's average bedrock depth significantly increased in the newest map.

Antarctica plays a huge role in the changing climate. As the ice sheet melts, it can cause sea levels to rise and even influence ocean currents which, in turn, can influence weather patterns. The latest and most accurate map will help researchers predict exactly what will happen if the ice sheet melts and will help them determine how much sea levels will rise.

"It will be an important resource for the next generation of ice sheet modelers, physical oceanographers and structural geologists," said Peter Fretwell, BAS scientist and lead author, in a news release.

Want to learn more about mapping what lies beneath the surface of Antarctic's ice? You can check out the video below, originally appearing here.

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